Ramayana, is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata. It is said to have been composed by the sage Valmiki. The incidents related in it precede the Mahabharata by about one hundred and fifty years, but the epic was compiled after the Mahabharata.
The Ramayana has been preserved in three main recensions; the Northern which is the oldest and purest; the Bengal which has been subject to much tampering; and the Bombay which stands midway between the other two. These recensions differ on many points, about one-third of the verses of each version being absent from the other two. The epic is divided into seven books called kanda. The whole book consists of 24,000 stanzas or 96,000 lines. The seven kandas of the Ramayana are 1) Bala-kanda, relating the boyhood of Rama of the line of Raghu; 2) Ayodhya-Kanda, the incidents at Ayodhya; the marriage of Rama to Sita daughter of Janaka, and the banishment; 3) Aranya-kanda, `forest section', describing Rama's life in the forest with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana, and the abduction of Sita by Ravana 4) Kishkindhya-kanda, Rama's stay at Kishkindhya, residence of Sugriva the vanara (monkey) king; 5) Sundara-kanda, `beautiful section', describes the passage of Rama to Lanka across the bridge constructed by the vanara hosts; 6) Yuddha-kanda, 'battle section', also called Lanka-kanda, describes the war with Ravana and his death; the recovery of Sita; the return to Ayodhya and the coronation of Rama; 7) Uttara-kanda, 'later section'; the banishment of Sita; the birth of her two sons; Rama's recognition of them; reunion with Sita; Sita's death and translation to heaven.
There has been considerable speculation about the origin and import of this epic. The more fanciful trace it to Ancient Egypt taking as a starting point the similarities in the names of Rama and the Egyptian god Ra. Jacobi makes Sita a goddess of agriculture, Rama a form of Indra, Hanuman and his companions the Maruts, and gives the whole an atmospheric allegory. Lassen interprets the epic as describing the first attempt of the Aryans to conquer South India. The similarity between the basic story of the Ramayana, which is the abduction of Sita and the war that followed, and the Iliad, led Weber and others to suggest Greek influence based on the legend of Helen and the Trojan War.
The general consensus of critical holds that the story is of indigenous origin, and existed in ballad form in more than one version.
Whatever the origin of the slender plot it was taken over by the orthodox by the first or second century A.D., rewritten in Sanskrit with many pious shlokas added and the epic given a brahminical tone throughout which was not characteristic of the original work. The episodical arrangement of the books preserves fragments of its original shape, but the number of books has been increased and much to the material changed under Brahmin influence.